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The Pregnant Widow (Vintage International) Paperback – May 3, 2011

3.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Amis revisits themes from his early novels—sex, class resentment, lust, humiliation, obsession—with the grim perceptiveness of experience in this fascinating return to form. It's 1970, and 20-year-old Keith Nearing is spending the summer in Italy with a small group of friends, primary among them on-again/off-again girlfriend Lily and her gorgeous, unfortunately named friend, Scheherazade. The easiness between Keith and Lily begins to crumble as Lily picks up on Keith's perhaps requited attraction to Scheherazade. As Lily torments Keith—at first playfully, and later cruelly—and Keith inches closer to pulling off an all-consuming sexual coup, Amis milks a surprising amount of tension from a fairly wispy plot: will Keith get Scheherazade into the sack? The second half, with its unexpected turns and brutal developments (it is never a good thing to be named Keith in an Amis novel), could enjoy an easier conjunction with the first half, but the prose is as brilliant as ever, and the cast is amazingly well done. After the disappointment of Yellow Dog and the relative slimness of The House of Meetings, this smart, meaty novel is a revelation. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Other than the Boston Globe, critics were unimpressed with Amis's coming-of-age story set during the carefree 1970s. Despite his celebrated wit and sparkling prose, Amis takes too many detours, and his persistent lectures on the frustrations of growing old and the sexual revolution's long-term effects thwart the book's narrative momentum. Critics also complained that, in lieu of character development, Amis dully differentiates his creations by their peculiar traits and (for females) chest-waist-hip ratios. But his greatest mistake, according to the New York Times, is "assuming that readers will be interested in a bunch of spoiled, self-absorbed twits, who natter on endlessly about their desires and resentments and body parts." Though Amis is a gifted and frequently hilarious writer, readers may wish to pass on The Pregnant Widow. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400095980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095988
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,134,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Martin Amis sets much of the action in THE PREGNANT WIDOW in a castle in Italy in the summer of 1970. There, Keith Nearing, Mart's young and literate protagonist, cohabits with Lily (his girlfriend), the nubile Scheherazade (Lily's best friend), and the sexy Gloria, the girlfriend of Scheherazade's uncle.

Initially, Mart uses these characters to write a hilarious parody of "The English Novel", with the innocent Keith infatuated with the beautiful Scheherazade, as he works his way through PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, VANITY FAIR, JANE EYRE, and so on. Not only does this portion of TPW address the complications of courtship and codes of behavior, as do the classic novels that Keith reads; but the castle where Mart sets the story has rich widows, wealthy but imperfect male suitors, orphans, and other elements of this genre. Altogether, the comedy in this section of TPW is absolutely first rate, while reaching its high point in the terrific chapter "The Waiting".

But then, Keith has a sudden and unexpected sexual encounter that "rearranges his feelings." At this point, Keith's life stops feeling like an "English Novel." Initially, he finds that Kafka's "Metamorphosis" captures his guilty reaction to change. But soon, Keith inhabits a carnal mindset, where Mart identifies the genre as a "pornotheological farce". Once again, Amis is hilarious, although his subject has shifted from sensitive pursuit to hapless predation.

In TPW, Amis follows Keith from innocence to carnality to thoughtful maturity, where he has fathered four children and had three wives. While Keith's adventures in romance and carnality are hilarious, he is also a personality that Amis uses to explore the sexual revolution and its effect on women.
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Format: Hardcover
The Pregnant Widow can be boiled down to two words --- sex and height, both long-held preoccupations for the author. I so much wanted to like the novel and believe the reviews but this one's a serious disappointment. Yes, it's a parody of all the books, Keith, our hero is reading, those English classics that dance around sex while mainly abstaining from the act. That can't disguise a complete lack of plot, nor hide the fact that this isn't so much of a novel as an intellectual excercise. Amis wants to talk philospohy, biology, literature and the disappointments of aging. I've got no problem with that, but this is a stifling novel that springs to life for brief, entertaining pages and lapses back into navel-gazing. When you look back at London Fields or Money, you can see a writer setting out for new lands and moving towards them. This is the exact opposite, a book that takes place in an Italian castle and bounces back and forth within the walls, going nowhere, doing nothing. Avoid it.
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Format: Paperback
I was absolutely riveted by this book, but then, I was born in 1949. The so-called sexual liberation that occurred in the seventies is sort of a guilty secret for our generation. There was this extraordinary pressure on young people to be sexually active during this period, not as an expression of love or affection, but simply for the sake of sexual activity. Shy, modest girls were encouraged to by magazines and popular entertainment to have multiple sexual partners. Even doctors suggested that sexual restraint was either a lie or else some kind of neurosis. They practically insisted that young women should get on the pill. Where were the police indeed? The decade was truly a nightmare for young women. However, I can see that many readers did not understand what Amis was describing. If this was not the decade of your youth, you might well wonder at the characters' apparent obssession with sex.

I want to state emphatically that this is not a misogynist novel. Keith starts out as an insensitive lout but the author telling the story is full of empathy for his woman. Women bore the burden of recovering a respectable place for sexuality in human relations after the chaos of the seventies, and there was no Mr. Knightly to show the way. The author states this explicitly:

"It was already obvious that every hard and demanding adaptation would be falling to the girls. Not to the boys--who were all like that anyway. The boys could just go on being boys. It was the girls who had to choose. And ingenuousness was probably over. Maybe, in this new age, girls needed designs."

Girls who embraced the prevailing seventies lie about sexual liberation (Rita and Violet) did not come out all right in the end.
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Format: Hardcover
Just after reading The Pregnant Widow, I spent an afternoon looking at innocence through the eyes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. An exhibit including 54 late paintings arrived with spring at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The L.A. Times' reviewer, Christopher Knight, scoffed, "With long limbs, high breasts and no sense of either skeletal structure or musculature beneath tactile flesh, mannered female figures in oil paint or bronze are like inner tubes filled with compressed air." So much for Aphrodite's golden apple.

Mr. Knight is a younger man than I. The poignancy of Renoir, longing for a mythic past at a time when his brushes had to be taped into hands deformed by rheumatoid arthritis, took my breath. A return visit last week was just as arresting.

Martin Amis sets a gauzy remembrance in the swinging seventies, Italy with eternal sunshine and possibilities. Amis's triumph seems greater than Renoir's. The relentless humor of his narrator Keith breaks through the idyll, but the looming world he dubs Larkinland surely exposes an older man's longing for innocence, for justice and beauty, all torn in the drubbing of time.

Amis's peerless facility with language is always a delight.

"Now fade. Here is Keith, a towel round his waist. Here is Gloria, holding up a blue
dress as if assessing it for length. Then the look she gives him just before she turns.
As if he has come to deliver the pizza or drain the swimming pool. Then the physical
interchange - `the act by which love would be transmitted', as one observer put it,
`if there were any'.
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